The Washington lobbying group made a name for itself with that discovery. Headed by Michael Jacobson, a protege of the original granddaddy of consumer protection, Ralph Nader, CSPI took its place as America's culinary conscience.
It was interested in keeping us all healthy, like a new neighbor eager to serve up helpful advice. Downright perky.
Eager to dish out more information, CSPI began flexing its muscles (no, not mussels).
Kung Pao chicken? Bad, it roared. That colorful plate of chilies rellenos and guacamole? Caramba!
Suddenly, the helpful tidbits from that perky CSPI were beginning to chafe.
Every few months, the food police issued another search warrant, dove into our refrigerators and restaurants, and came out with another victim.
Fettuccine Alfredo? Mama mia, CSPI called it a heart attack on a plate!
And that cinnamon bun you swallowed whole during the morning commute? Why not just take a needle and do yourself in intravenously, the food police said.
Yes, it's all helpful information. But some people think CSPI has stepped way over the line of being helpful and has simply become annoying.
And, quite frankly, not all that informative, either.
Sugar, butter, heavy cream. Yep, it's fattening. Stop the presses.
``I think what they are trying to do is beginning to backfire,'' said Althea Zanecosky, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Dietetic Association. ``Nobody likes a nagger.''
Last week, CSPI unleashed its latest dinner-shattering discovery.
A big, greasy, mushroom cheeseburger with a side of deep-fried onion rings is very fattening.
It took scientists to figure that out?
Yes, Jacobson said.
``People have a sense that a cheeseburger is fairly high in fat, but to discover that a typical order of onion rings has 64 grams of fat. . . . I don't think anybody had any idea that a single side order of onion rings has all the fat you should have in one day,'' the CSPI director said in a telephone interview.
``What's a little fat among friends?'' That's what Frank E. Olivieri, an owner of Pat's King of Steaks, the Philadelphia basilica of grease, wanted to know when he heard of CSPI's latest proclamation.
``I don't think we need a lobbyist group policing our caloric intake. I'll be the first to say that cheesesteaks have many calories. But everything in moderation,'' said Olivieri.
David Shaw, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, and author of a book called The Pleasure Police, agreed.
``I don't think the road to heaven is paved with bean curd,'' said Shaw, who just returned from a 17-day, heavy-cholesterol-dinner-every-night trip to France.
``They [CSPI] leave out the perspective of balance,'' Shaw said. ``I don't think I need a warning about a double chili cheeseburger. Even my son knows that's not health food. And he just turned seven.''
Zanecosky called CSPI's five-alarm declarations ``tabloid nutrition'' that skims over the complexity of a balanced diet, and may even get people to tune out important information.
``The more you nag people, the less interested they become,'' she said. ``The goal of any dietitian should be to teach people that there are no bad foods. The goal is to teach them how to eat that cheeseburger and still be healthy.''
Don't blame CSPI for the bad news, Jacobson said.
``It's crazy to get mad at us. It's a classic case of killing the messenger,'' he said. ``Why aren't people getting mad at the restaurants?''
Facts are facts, he said. Face them.
Still, guys like Olivieri, who sell hundreds of cheesesteaks each day, say Americans like their grease and aren't too eager to have it trashed.
``Maybe it's time for these people to start looking into other things,'' he said. ``Maybe, get real jobs that'll help society. Like filling potholes.''